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California’s Foster Youth Need You Now!

SPECIAL EDITION

As the 2nd year in the two-year bill session comes to an end, many bills are still alive and headed to the governor’s desk. This includes several important bill related to children’s mental health.

In last week’s blog highlighted an important bill (AB741) which, if signed by the governor, will allow California to provide crisis residential services to children and youth under the age of 18.  In this special edition we wanted to highlight another important bill, AB1299.

AB1299 (Ridley – Thomas)

Foster children are three to six times more likely than non-foster children to experience emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. Experts estimate that up to 85 percent of children in foster care have mental health disorders. When foster youths’ mental health needs are not met, the result is often placement instability, school failure, costly institutionalization in group homes, residential treatment facilities and psychiatric hospitals, delinquency, and even death.

Especially at risk are ‘out-of-county” foster youth; that is, foster youth those who were residents of one county when they entered foster care (the “county of original jurisdiction”), but were later placed in a different county (the “county of residence”) by county social services. According to the most recent data (July 2014) shared by the California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP) at UC Berkeley, almost one in five foster children live in placements across county lines or “out-of-county,” totaling over 13,000 youth statewide.  These young people often experience lengthy delays or denials in accessing mental health services.

Data suggest that foster children sent out-of-county have greater mental health needs and less access to most types of mental health care. In the 2011 Data Mining Report issued by the California Child Welfare Council, researchers found out-of-county foster children were more likely to have been diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder than those placed in-county. Despite having greater service needs, out-of-county foster children were 10-15% less likely to receive any mental health service than their in-county peers. Among those that did receive services, out-of-county foster children received fewer services and less intensive treatment compared to children placed in-county.

More recent data confirms out-of-county foster children continue to face disparities in access despite having the same entitlement to mental health services under federal and state law as their in-county peers. Based on June 2014 service data collected pursuant to the settlement agreement in Katie A. v. Bonta, out-of-county foster children were 6½ times less likely to receive intensive mental health services than their in-county peers.

AB1299, authored by Assemblymember Ridley – Thomas, will ensure that foster children who are placed out of the county where they are brought in to care are able to access mental health services in a timely manner, consistent with federal mandates. This bill is designed to finally fix the “out of county” issue for foster kids.  In other words, it moves the responsibility to arrange and pay for the specialty mental health services for youth placed out of county to the mental health plan of the county where the child is residing.  AB1299 would also utilize the state’s existing authority to adjust allocations to the county mental health plans to cover the costs of services provided to youth placed out-of-county.

The bill has the support of several state level departments, counties, legal advocates, parents, youth, schools, and other collaborators.  It continues to be unopposed and has passed through all committees and both floors on unanimous vote.

California’s Foster Youth Need You Now!

We would like to thank those of you who have already contacted the Governor with your support for AB741.  Please continue those efforts.  Like AB741, there is no guarantee that Governor Brown will sign AB1299 into law, despite the board stakeholder support.  Therefore, the author and sponsors of the bill are asking for you to contact the Governor’s office and let him know that this bill is important to you.  The sponsors have provided the attached Action Alert which includes scripts for you to use when writing your personal letter to the Governor or when calling his office.

Get involved HERE.

Thanks!